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Various Artists: The Real Bahamas in Music and Song (2003)

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Various Artists: The Real Bahamas in Music and Song No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Here's the (hi)story in a nutshell. The Bahamas, a British colony, outlawed slavery in 1838, which meant that any lucky American slaves who could get there would be free, and the predictable outcome transpired. The music they brought contained the very roots of the blues, the connection between spirituals and folk music. And so generations around Nassau took this music as their own and turned it into something that today sounds at once familiar and distant: a new species.

These two volumes of music from the Bahamas feature 34 short songs which would almost fit on one disc, but alas, not quite. (A previous reissue chopped out a few to fit, but the collection is wisely preserved in its entirety here.) The music consists entirely of men and women singing, sometimes with guitars: alone, together, or in groups. Peter K. Siegel and Jody Stecher recorded this material in 1965 by going right to the source with a tape recorder, so this is a field recording and not a studio job. The original release dates were 1966 and 1978, respectively.

The dark spirit of Robert Johnson reverberates in Joseph Spence, the big star of the group. He launches into the only song not recorded in the Bahamas, picking and growling like he's coming straight out of the delta, but then he heads off into fingerstyle folk music, humming along toward a happy chord at the end. The refrain is the title and the message: "Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend."

The undertones to that little picker-upper are counterbalanced by "I Am So Glad" a few minutes later. Bruce Green leads a vocal trio through a freeform harmonized introduction, which eventually coalesces into pure prayer: "I am happy forever... newborn again." These are the voices of a strain of Christianity which embraces call-and-response trance music on the borders of choral music. But just voices, nothing else. The vocal style called "rhyming" is native to the Bahamas, as is the bright accent of the islands.

The great thing about these two records, both meaty and well-documented, is that they reveal a bridge between the dark (blues) and light (gospel) sides of American black music, embracing both equally as part of a greater whole. That separation never really happened in the Bahamas, it seems. Sing along, tap your feet, whatever. It's about being alive, one way or the other.

Visit Nonesuch Records on the web.

Track Listing: Vol. 1: We'll Understand It Better By and By; Sheep Know When Thy Shephard Calling; I Told You People Judgement Coming; Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend; Sailboat Malarkey; Up in the Heaven Shouting; Won't That Be a Happy Time; Out on the Rolling Sea; I Am So Glad; Come for Your Dinner; God Locked the Lion's Jaw; Great Dream from Heaven; My Lord Help Me to Pray; Numberless As the Sands on the Seashore; I Ain't Got Long; I Bid You Goodnight. Vol. 2: Mary and Joseph; Peter, You Need the Lord; Jesus Promised Me a Home over There; Troublesome Water; Kneeling Down Inside the Gate; Jesus Your Name So Sweet; Take Me over the Tide; When the Leaves Turn Red; That Glad Reunion Day; The Great Coronation; The Captain Go Ashore; Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold God's Body Down.

Personnel: Edith Pinder, Raymond Pinder, Geneva Pinder, Joseph Spence, Frederick McQueen, Reverend W.G. McPhee, Sam Green & group, Bruce Green, Tweedie Gibson, Clifton Green, Louise Spence, Shelton Swain, George McKenzie, Stanley Thompson, Stanley Swain, Ronald Swain. Vol. 2: Joseph Spence, Geneva Pinder, Edith Pinder, Raymond Pinder, Bruce Green, Tweedie Gibson, Clifton Green, Shelton Swain, Ronald Swain, George McKenzie, Lyndall Albury, Stanley Swain.

Record Label: Nonesuch Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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